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Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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Submarine cable link 'sabotaged' again

Internet, telecoms disrupted for 15 hours

The country's Internet and overseas telecom services were once again disrupted for around 15 hours from early Tuesday night as criminals snapped optical fibre line near Cox's Bazar and Feni.

Since installation of this line in 2006, this is the 22nd case of disruption and second in the running week. Just two days ago, the line was snapped for several hours.

Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) claims that this is the seventh case of "an act of sabotage" aimed at disrupting the country's international telecom and Internet activities.

Experts restored the line at around 4:00pm.

Sources said that miscreants snapped the line at three points near Feni and took away 140 metres of the fibre optic cables. The first disruption came to BTTB's notice at around 1:00am Tuesday.

"There is practically no resale value of this optical fibre cable. There is no copper or iron in it. Then why would anyone dig up the earth deep in the night to steal 140 metres of cable?" asks a BTTB official.

The other incident took place hundreds of kilometres away from Feni--in Joaria Nala of Ramu, close to Cox's Bazar--at around 5:30am. Here, the miscreants dug up about 4.5 feet earth, broke a brick casing through which the cable was laid and then just damaged the cable using crowbar.

"It goes to confirm that someone made such an effort just to disrupt the line. But who could be benefited from such a disruption?" the official added.

The optical fibre line connects Dhaka to the Cox's Bazar's submarine cable's landing station and takes the nation to the Information Superhighway. It serves as the backbone of international communication, while satellite services act as backup with limited bandwidth.

Presently, the BTTB is using 2799 Mbps voice and 1244 Mbps data bandwidth through the optical fibre and submarine cable lines.

This means, the disruption of the optical fibre lines affected overseas calls and Internet connections through 'legal means' while, at the same time, this may have tremendously generated income for illegal VoIP operators, who would be handling increasing number of overseas calls during the disruption hours, experts say.

This disruption deprives the BTTB of revenue of 70,000 US dollars per hour.

Since the line was installed, the BTTB shut down the line eight times for maintenance works and there had been seven cases of accidental disruption of the line. The remaining seven rounds are being described as acts of sabotage.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies including the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) had been deployed two months ago to find out the culprits. But till now, no breakthrough has been achieved.

BACKUP LINE FOR OPTICAL FIBRE CONNECTION
While launching its own optical fibre line for connection with the submarine cable the BTTB in its bid to have a backup or "redundancy" system, made a proposal to the Power Grid Corporation of Bangladesh (PGCB)--another government body dealing with power grid system.

Unlike the BTTB's 433-km long optical fibre line that was installed underneath the ground, the PGCB's line is set over the poles, along with high tension power grid system.

Though the proposal is now two years old, the deal could not be forged as the PGCB is asking for huge rental.

However a competent BTTB source pointed out the PGCB deal is expected to be signed within this month. Once it is done, the international data and voice communication will have higher degree of reliability.

REACTION
At a press conference in the city, leaders of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (Basis), Bangladesh Computer Samity (BCS) and ISP Association of Bangladesh expressed concerns about repeated cases of disruption.

Rafiqul Islam of Basis, Fayaz Ullah Khan of BCS and A Salam of ISPAB said that the disruption had tremendously affected all IT related work inside the country and outward communication from the country.

Such disruptions were affecting IT exports and Internet related business and therefore the authorities should take appropriate measures so that this line is not disrupted in future.

They noted that the country's Internet charge was the highest in Asia, and 20 times higher than that of the neighbouring countries. The high cost plus frequent disruption of the line was severely affecting IT related exports, they said.

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